Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

return of forty seals, about a third of the number we might have fairly reckoned upon had the shooting been good; to us, however, the bag seemed a heavy one, everything considered.

Our zeal in the pursuit of these animals having in no wise abated, we vary the performance by steering the schooner along the ice edge, the sportsman with his gun keeping a sharp lookout for game, particular attention being bestowed on each long-point end, as the promontories of the streams of ice are called, for at these points the hunted seals are always likely to make a short stand on their ever onward course towards the north and towards. the depths of the pack-ice, where they would hope to obtain some respite from their pursuers. Where that northern point may be towards which the westice or saddle-back seals (Phoca Grænlandica) are making, has hitherto been a puzzle to the seal fishermen ; that they rest in some remote northern latitude there can be little doubt, as they are found in the early season far south on the breeding grounds, where very young seals are found on the first coming of the fishermen, and at that season the gravid seals and their young of the year fall an easy prey to the sealfishers whenever they are fortunate enough to find their way to their breeding haunts. But as the season



advances, they return to their northern homes, and escape further pursuit for that year.

Speculating upon the migratory habits of the seal, we come suddenly upon a small family, probably, from their extreme wariness, a batch we had been in pursuit of the previous day; their heads are continually raised, and as the day is damp, and has the same effect upon seals as damp weather always has upon wild game of every kind, we find it almost impossible to get within range; we endeavour to stalk them, a matter of exceeding difficulty, owing to the inveterate habit of sailors to chatter and fidget whenever occasion demands perfect silence being preserved. We notice that the least rustle in the boat disturbs the game, we take off our boots, the oars are taken in, and one man, having an eye upon the herd, sculls the boat, always taking care to stop the same instant he notices that he is being observed. We try Hawker's dodge of burning a turf in the bows, and advance under cover of the smoke ; in spite of every precaution we are forced to return on board, with only two seals accounted for.

The look-out man now declares he has seen clear water in the far distance, and the man on deck, guided by his directions, struggles through the streams running south, the good little vessel behaving admirably as we make our way towards the east. Our object is to round the point end of the ice, and so stand away again to the north.

The fog on the following day hung like a pall round the ship, lifting occasionally its vapory fringe and letting us see in the clear spaces around such easy chances for obtaining sport with the seal, that we are all impatience to be gone in their pursnit, but the harpooneers, grown cautious by long experience, are strangely averse to any such proceedings in the present condition of the atmosphere. They tell of former misadventures and narrow escapes, which happened to themselves, enough to fill the stoutest heart with apprehension. One of these poor fellows was actually lost by his ship, and when almost on the point of giving up in sheer despair, he was picked up by another whaling vessel, and so got safe out of a danger which otherwise might have terminated fatally. Two boats' crews belonging to a captain who still sails in these seas were left to such a horrible fate as falls to the lot of those left behind, no haven for them but death, through their utter inability to find their ship again ; they were lured away by some such tempting chance as now offered of procuring a seal or two. Towards the afternoon the curtain lifted and the sun shone out; all semblance of danger being now removed, we get out the dingy, an unsteady little

[blocks in formation]

We creep

boat worked by one man, and we shove off in the. direction of a point of ice where two great seals are basking in the warm rays of the sun. steadily towards them, dodging past the blocks of floating ice as we go. Our two guns are ready, and we agree to fire at the same moment. Nothing seems more certain than that the precautions we have taken will meet with the success our efforts deserve, but we are again doomed to disappointment; we only wound the largest. These seals we made so sure of were what are called bladder noses (Cystophora, cristata). These strange-looking fellows are quite unlike in facial aspect to any we had previously seen.

The bladder-nose is the fifth variety of seal we have as yet encountered, and from his habit of going farther on the ice, and making a greater show of resistance to his pursuers, he promises to afford greater opportunities for sport.

Hardly had we time to load, when they appeared again close by the boat; disturbed in their nap by our sudden onslaught, evidently they had dived to avoid the threatened danger, and were now on the surface to reconnoitre—perhaps each feared for the safety of the other. There was no time to lose, therefore, and a bullet was lodged in the tough hide of the male. Down he plunged once more, but evidently hard hit. We prepare to harpoon him if he offers us the chance, but being too far off for this attempt, we wound him again, and again he disappears. The sailor gives way with a will, and on his again presenting himself we lunged at him with the harpoon. Owing to some awkwardness the head became detached, and he was struck with the harpoon staff instead; seizing the staff in his formidable jaws, he smashed it in half. We hasten to adjust another harpoon, and are determined not to fail should he appear once more.

We stand waiting impatiently for him ; as his great head appears over the water he stares wildly at us, and it is impossible to imagine a more ugly looking brute. The nose is puffed out, his teeth showing, his eyes glaring on us, blood streams down his forehead and over his cat-like whiskers, as he disputes with us every inch of the way. He comes steadily down upon us, but we are equally resolute, and this time the harpoon is driven home with all our force; and it passes right through the clumsy body of the seal. Of the six bullets fired at him, two we found had actually grazed his skull, and these wounds did not certainly add to his beauty. Dragging his great and unwieldy body on to the ice, we flenced him, and soon had the hide on board our boat—the skin spread like a mat beneath our feet. We turned towards

« AnteriorContinuar »